Steve Chalke, a promiment evangelical minister in the UK, has come out in favor of monogamous, same-sex relationships. He has a written a 5,000 word essay to explain himself. I have purposely delayed reporting on this issue (which hit the news a few weeks ago) until I could read his essay so as to avoid a knee-jerk reaction to the news. Having read it, I can’t say I am surprised by his arguments. It’s the same case liberal theologians make time and time again. He begins by an appeal to emotion (inclusion, justice, reconciliation), and then claims that we have misunderstood the Biblical texts traditionally understood as prohibitions against homosex.
When we refuse to make room for gay people to live in loving, stable relationships, we consign them to lives of loneliness, secrecy, fear and even of deceit.
Too often, those who seek to enter an exclusive, same-sex relationship have found themselves stigmatised and excluded by the Church. I have come to believe this is an injustice and out of step with God’s character as seen through Christ.
Why am I so passionate about this issue? Because people’s health and safety as well as their lives are at stake. Numerous studies show that suicide rates among gay people, especially young people, are comparatively high.
I believe that when we treat homosexual people as pariahs and push them outside our communities and churches; when we blame them for who they are; when we deny them our blessing on their commitment to lifelong, faithful relationships, we make them doubt whether they are children of God, made in his image.
The pastoral situation, however, is still more pressing than this. The issue of any church’s attitudes to homosexuality has huge impact, not only on those individuals who are lesbian or gay, but also on their parents, siblings, wider families, friends, colleagues and neighbours. Tragically, I know well a family torn apart (in an all too typical scenario) because the Christian parents of a daughter entering a Civil Partnership – as a result of the teaching they had received – refused to attend the ceremony. Their daughter – also a committed Christian – who had taken years to find the courage to be honest with them about her sexuality (for fear of their response) felt betrayed. Brothers and sister took different sides. Neighbours, work colleagues, church members and friends all joined in. Thus a rift was created which has left in its wake much sadness and pain, a catalogue of broken or strained relationships and some very deep regrets.
What I have found most remarkable, however, is the fact that for all the rejection that so many gay people face from churches, their inner sense of spirituality and commitment to Christ still pushes them to want to belong.
Rather than condemn and exclude, can we dare to create an environment for homosexual people where issues of self-esteem and wellbeing can be talked about; where the virtues of loyalty, respect, interdependence and faithfulness can be nurtured, and where exclusive and permanent same-sex relationships can be supported?
While I sympathize with those who experience same-sex attraction, emotions are not reliable gauges for determining what is right and wrong. To determine the moral good we need to apply our best thinking, not our best feeling.
To see how flimsy Chalke’s emotional appeal is as an argument for committed same-sex relationships, replace “gay” in the above quotes with “adult incest.” Would the same conclusion follow? No. So the real issue is not inclusion, belonging, stigma, family cohesion, suicide, self-esteem, respect, or well-being. The real issue is whether or not homosex is moral behavior. Chalke recognizes this, which is why he goes on to examine the Biblical data. That’s a great place to start. The problem is that he appears to twist the Biblical data to fit a conclusion he came to independently of the Biblical text, namely that homosex is morally good in the context of faithful, loving relationships.
Chalke’s Biblical analysis
Chalke contends that the creation account in Genesis, and the statement in Genesis 2:24 that a man should leave his parents and be united to his wife in a one-flesh bond is not an ordinance, but a norm. Norms do not exclude other possible expressions.
He dismisses the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah by simply appealing to scholars that understand the reason for their destruction to be “the indulgence, indifference to others and social injustice of their inhabitants,” not homosexuality.
He waves away the Levitical injunctions against homosexuality by saying that if we follow this law, then we must also follow the law that prohibited disabled people from worshipping God (Leviticus 21:16-23). While he’s right to point out that the Mosaic Law did not distinguish between civil, religious, and moral laws as we often do today, that doesn’t mean that the Law cannot be properly categorized as such. Those living under the Mosaic Law may not have always been able to clearly distinguish between a law reflecting God’s moral nature and a purely ceremonial law (and even if they could, it would not change the fact that they were bound to keep all the laws just the same), but we can. Since the New Covenant only contains God’s moral laws, if a law appearing in the Mosaic Law is not repeated in the New Covenant, then it must not be a moral law. Since the NT prohibits homosexuality, we know this law – unlike the law regarding the handicapped – was a moral law that is binding in every covenant. While we are no longer under the Mosaic Law, we still appeal to the Mosaic Law’s proscription against homosex do demonstrate God’s transcovenantal disapproval with this behavior. Chalke should be ashamed of himself for trying to dismiss the import of the Levitical prohibition in such a manner.
When he comes to the NT passages (Rom 1:26-27; 1 Cor 6:9-11; 1 Tim 1:9-11) he merely states that there is disagreement as to how they should be interpreted. He argues that the Biblical authors could not have been condemning loving, committed homosexual unions because they had no concept of such a relationship. They were only aware of wild, uncommitted, promiscuous relationships. Robert Gagnon has demonstrated this notion to be false, citing several examples in the ancient world of committed, loving same-sex relationships, so Chalke’s point fails.
He also claims that Paul had idolatrous worship practices in mind, particularly in Romans 1. But if this were the case, why didn’t Paul condemn sex between men and women as well since heterosex as well as homosex was used in temple worship? Paul’s problem was only with homosex, and the reason is clear: it goes against God’s design for human sexuality.
As with many other pro-gay interpreters of the Bible, Chalke argues that we need to take a fresh look at the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality similar to how many have taken a fresh look at other topics such as slavery and women ministers. He claims that the Bible seems to clearly prohibit women from serving in the ministry, and yet many conservative Christians have found a way to interpret the Bible in such a way so as to permit women ministers. Why, then, can’t we do the same for same-sex relationships?
This is twisted logic. Essentially he is arguing that if we’re going to be dishonest with Scripture on one topic, then why not be dishonest with another! Clearly the move should be in the opposite direction. We should seek to be faithful to Scripture on all topics.
Chalke is right to point out that the church needs to change its attitude toward gay people, and do a better job interacting with and helping those who experience same-sex attraction, but he is wrong to suggest that this should include our joyful acceptance and embrace of homosex as something to be celebrated as equal to heterosex. Scripture is our authority, and his reinterpretations of Scripture do not pass muster. The Bible clearly condemns homosex, and so must we.
Love is not the same as acceptance. If we truly want to show homosexuals love, we must warn them against God’s judgment. We must be clear that their behavior is displeasing to God, and that the very nature of their relationships is harmful. Accepting their behavior as morally good is not loving, but hateful, because we are failing to tell them the truth that their immoral behavior will reap negative consequences.
I have no doubt that this trend will continue. More and more Evangelicals will cave to the social and political pressure to normalize homosex, just as many have caved to the pressure to ordain women and accept abortion. More and more Christians will see homosexuality as morally benign, and will seek ways of interpreting Scripture that will conform Scripture to their beliefs. More than ever the church must be faithful to Scripture, and faithful to our God. We must stand up for what we know is right, even if that results in social ridicule. Those who want to be the friend of God cannot live to please men. We must take a stand for truth.